De Blasio considering options if schools are unsafe in September

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Bill de Blasio | AP Photo
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference. | Julio Cortez/AP Photo

New York City is considering options including alternating days for kids to attend school and even sticking with entirely online learning if it is not safe to reopen the school system as normal in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

The city’s “plan A” is to have all school buildings fully open when the new school year starts, de Blasio said, but officials are weighing contingency plans — including a possible scenario where schools cannot physically reopen at all because of the coronavirus pandemic.


“We have to make sure kids are safe, family members are safe, educators are safe, staff is safe,” the mayor told reporters Monday. “If for any reason we’re not confident of that, then there’s a plan B, a plan C and a plan D. You can do all sorts of things, from alternating days, staggered schedules. You can just stick with the pure online learning, which is nowhere near what we’d like it to be ideally, but still has been a very, very admirable effort in reaching so many kids.”

Schools in the city, as well as across New York state, are closed for the rest of the school year, and de Blasio has said they will reopen for a new academic year in September. But concerns have grown about the safety of returning to normal schooling, especially as a dangerous inflammatory syndrome linked to Covid-19 emerges in kids. The teachers union has pushed for more safety measures before schools reopen.

The city has now identified 145 children suffering from “multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” de Blasio said Monday. The health department issued an advisory telling doctors to “refer patients to specialty care promptly, including to critical care if warranted” and to immediately report possible cases of the disease to the health department.

“We need to know a lot more about this syndrome and what it means as we make our decision about schools, unquestionably,” de Blasio said.

He said no final decision would be made until much closer to the start of the new school year.

The city’s death toll from Covid-19 is up to 20,720, and there are 190,408 confirmed cases of the virus.

De Blasio said Monday he expects the city to hit the seven criteria that New York state has set out for regions to begin lifting restrictions some time in the first half of June. Those include having enough available beds in hospitals in ICUs.

Several upstate regions have been cleared to enter the first phase of reopening, but New York City and its suburbs, which are home to the worst coronavirus outbreak, has not.

The city is also tracking three of its own public health indicators, which must all decline for 10 to 14 days before reopening can begin. Monday’s results were a mixed bag, with a decrease in the number of people admitted to hospitals but an increase in the number of patients in ICUs at public hospitals. The percentage of tests coming back positive stayed flat.

“Our goal is to get it right the first time,” de Blasio said. “We’re not opening up the floodgates at once. We’ve seen other places do that, and they paid dearly for it.”

City employees who are now working remotely will continue to stay home for the “foreseeable future,” the mayor said.

With shutdown restrictions still fully in place, the city is not opening its beaches for swimming on Memorial Day weekend as it normally would.

On Monday, city workers will begin installing fencing that could be rolled out to block access to the beaches altogether, de Blasio said, but it won’t be used unless there are violations of no-swimming and social distancing rules.

The mayor wants to avoid people from all over the pouring onto the beaches, as well as taking subways and buses to get there.

“If you want to walk on the beach, fine, enjoy that. But no swimming. No lifeguards. No parties. No barbecues. No sports. It’s just open space that you can walk on, take it in and then get back home,” de Blasio said. “We’re in a pandemic. We’re in a global health crisis. It’s not beach season like normal. Don’t go to the beach.”

The mayor also announced that for the first time on Monday, coronavirus testing kits manufactured in New York City are being used at public testing sites.

Print Parts, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Collab are working on the homegrown manufacturing effort, which the city started in response to shortages of tests.

The manufacturers made 28,000 kits last week, and expect to be making 60,000 by the first week of June.

“We had to do it because we learned we could not depend on the federal government. We had to do it because we saw the entire international market fall apart before our eyes,” de Blasio said.

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